Federal Funds for Abstinence Group Withheld
August 23, 2005
Yesterday, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services officials suspended a federal grant to the Silver Ring Thing abstinence program, concluding that the project "includes both secular and religious components that are not adequately safeguarded." In a letter to the SRT program director, Associate Commissioner of the Family and Youth Services Bureau Harry Wilson ordered the group to submit a "corrective action plan" if it intends to receive an expected $75,000 grant this year.
The move comes three months after the American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit in federal court in Boston against HHS, accusing the agency of using tax money to promote Christianity. In its filing, ACLU said SRT's activities, brochures, and Web site were "permeated with religion" and use "taxpayer dollars to promote religious content, instruction, and indoctrination."
In filings with the Internal Revenue Service, Pennsylvania-based SRT describes its mission as "evangelistic ministry" with a focus on "evangelistic crusade planning." Teen graduates of SRT sign a covenant "before God Almighty" to remain virgins and are given a silver ring reminding them to "keep clear of sexual sin." Many of its events are held at churches.
"Any religious teaching that goes on is separate in time and place from what the government is funding. They offer a religious program and they offer a secular program; kids can choose which one they want to go to," said Joel Oster, senior litigation counsel at the Alliance Defense Fund, which is representing SRT.
While the ACLU is "pleased the government has recognized that [SRT] was misusing public dollars to promote its own faith over all others," it will continue to monitor the group's activities, said Julie Sternberg, an ACLU senior staff attorney.
08.23.05; Ceci Connolly
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This article was provided by CDC National Prevention Information Network. It is a part of the publication CDC HIV/Hepatitis/STD/TB Prevention News Update.